I’ve been Jewish for 522 days. When I converted, my child was nearly 8 years old, which is too old to take into the mikveh (ritual bath) with me without her agreement. If she’d been 5 or younger, I’d have taken her in the mikveh and she’d be Jewish now. That didn’t happen, so I began my Jewish life with a non-Jewish child. (My husband isn’t Jewish either.) Overnight, my conversion turned us into an interfaith family. I wasn’t sure what that would mean, yet I know I wasn’t expecting my daughter’s declaration that she doesn’t want to be Jewish.
At the conversion, I took a vow to raise my child within Judaism. It never occurred to me that the challenge in doing so would be my own child, because she adored religious school and attended Shabbat services with me. (Yes, she was allowed to attend religious school before I converted.) But now, my child is rebelling—politely, but still. She’s told me she doesn’t want to be Jewish or Christian. She wants to be “nothing,” she says. By rejecting it all, I think she wants to let me know it’s not personal.
My nature is to take action—and to take it fast. This time, I moved slowly. I did nothing for months. I didn’t press her or tell her she had to do anything. I enjoyed taking time to see what might happen. During this time, a rabbi reached out to me to see why my daughter was not yet signed up for Sunday school. I emailed her back about my problem, and she shared the following ideas:
1. Attend the family Shabbat services on a regular basis.
2. Invite other families over to light candles on Friday nights.
3. Arrange play dates with Jewish friends.
4. Prioritize engaging in community events right now as opposed to academic offerings (like Hebrew class).
The suggestions focus on community, being together as a family, and letting the child find her way into Judaism (or not). The rabbi told me Jewish kids have the same reactions sometimes. I hadn’t thought about it that way–it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone.
One quiet evening, I mentioned to my daughter that I’d spoken with a rabbi about her not wanting to attend Sunday school or be Jewish. I let her know I understood her, yet I wondered if she’d try a few Sunday school classes in the fall. She hesitantly said she would.
“What if I don’t like the classes?” she asked me.
With my newfound desire to take things slowly, I said, “Let’s take it one step at a time. Would that work for you?”
She said yes.
And that’s where we’ve left it until school starts. It had once felt strange to encourage my daughter to become religious and Jewish when I had not been either for most of my life. Was it fair to expect her to convert? On the other hand, shouldn’t we encourage kids to test new ideas, ways of thinking, and experiences? If I caved in to her desire to quit Judaism now, I’d be letting her decide at a very young age. At my synagogue, I’ve met a number of people who were not raised Jewish and wish they had been. It’s confusing to know what to do.
I’m still not sure of the right answer. However, I think allowing her to express herself honestly will strengthen the trust between us. And that will work for now.